Friday, October 22, 2010

Olympic Dam sustainable?

I've been reading BHP's Olympic Dam sustainability report for 2008.

It is the last sustainability report for the mine I can find. Maybe 2009 and 2010 had some breaches that weren't worth recording?

A couple of points or so.

There are some 7 pages on employee safety at the start of the report and two and half pages on the environment. Safety is important but why is in the Sustainability report. Is it something along the lines of "if I kill or maim my employees my business is unsustainable". Safety and employee welfare is an HR& S issue and shifting it to the front of the sustainability report just muddies the issue. It looks like window-dressing. You could stick your finances into the sustainability report and say that without money my business is not sustainable. It just do justice to HR&S either. In the context of a sustainability report it looks like padding to me, but it is common in mining companies sustainability reports.

A definition of sustainable development is that which "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (Brundlandt Report) So I'd want to know in the case of Olympic Dam in its sustainability report about water. What impact will pumping so much water out of the Great Artesian Basin have on other parts of the aquifer. Is it being pumped out at a sustainable rate? Is it being refilled at the same rate as it is being pumped out? There's no mention of aquifer or Great Artesian Basin anywhere in the report. Yet that's what is at great risk of unsustainable development.

It is nice that the BHP has a program that encourages the use water-saving showerheads at Roxby Downs, but in the context of being the largest industrial user of underground water in the Southern Hemisphere, cosuming some 35 million litres a day, it probably just isn't having a whole lot of impact. The pressure in the local springs has been much reduced in recent years. It's observable.

By the way the water doesn't cost BHP.

A small point it says BHP finalize an agreement with three Aboriginal groups who "claim" an interest i the regions. That suggests that BHP doesn't believe them.

It does raise the question in my mind about how seriously mining companies are about their sustainability programs, and how much it is just window dressing.

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